RELIC OF HOPE
Pale sky-bound hand of earth
thrust up from hollowed ground’s soul;
once dark, full-fleshed, exhaling
bright speech through thick wild
word-wood of iron gall;
a now bare sun-blanched
void in rife ripe green:
a blasted tree, kindling
Grazing cows with itching rump and side
tend the bole that ivian claw not grasp
and shroud this relict bone in pall and tug
toward the coffin of its birth.
In midst of summer hays and hope
the hand unstrangled stirs
shattered branch with splinted stiffness.
Only raw crow-cry comes;
age-cracked croak of antique song
It is better to be dumb.
The hand moves not; seeks not;
heeds not hell’s bloom;
drowns song in silence.
Shadows of promise ford the sky.
I cast a casual eye for first signs;
first sighs feathering
grey from far cloud edge;
sky-sedge; streaked herald . . .
Nothing. Yet nothing
The nimbal vault lowers,
a gradual gloaming
curtaining the day,
in long cloud-song
where soft sfumato smirr
screes the slopes, steeps
through thatch to wash
unseen the hill’s bare side
in rills that hidden run to
at the path edge, and drip,
in streamlet clean . . .
— But here, there is nothing. Still.
All is still. No smudge of air
to raise a hope is there.
Where does the elusive
first drop strike?
How straight its path from birth,
In midst of hope and thought
there dawns the realisation:
It has begun.
The precious first mote
has dark-speckled the path;
a half-sensed touch wakening joy,
expectation of song
myriad tympanum —
leaves, blades, glass, clay, earth —
all new-voiced from silence.
The first staccatos of Autumn’s crisp litter
soften with saturation to sodden plash, warm
rich reds, golds asound, relished as they drown
memory of Summer’s fitful sobriety,
when cravings too-rare unleashed did break
exultant in thirsted gluts, full-dropped,
longed for by sky and earth (and I)
who rejoiced in too-brief torrent of exuberance.
Thus the seasons’ symphony plays out
in joyous perpetuity; in opulent annuity.
Autumn will turn through scherzodic squalls
to austere beauty of stark Winter’s melody,
bare on earth, on dormant sinews spare;
before Spring’s leaves unfurl afresh
to usher rivulets of song that soft fall to earth
or plunge from a pool’s bank to glad clarion.
But most I long for the cherished blanket
of day-long song, when rain
surrounds with a nest of sound,
unchanging, yet never the same.
These are days for memory;
days to walk within that womb-like
scape of song that shifts
with every step, each turn of head;
days to seek a rich, broad-leafed
high house of song, where
from thick canopy’s fringe
the leaves lense arhythmic pointillisms —
echoes of sky-song beyond its edge . . .
Lost in song, I do not notice
that it has ended. Silence,
refreshed, is more beautiful.
Philip Lancaster is a singer and musicologist with an interest in the study and singing of art-song, and the work of composer and poet Ivor Gurney. He has just published his first short collection of poems, ‘Fulcrum’, issued in a limited, fine press edition (details can be found at his website: http://www.philiplancaster.com/p/fulcrum.htm) and is already at work on his next. He is also working under the auspices of a scholarship from the Finzi Trust to compose a chamber oratorio, ‘The Passion of War’. From September 2014 Philip has been appointed British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, working with Tim Kendall to edit the complete literary works of Ivor Gurney for the Oxford University Press, writing a monograph on Gurney’s work, and completing an important cantata left unfinished by Gurney. He lives in the shadow of Lichfield Cathedral, enjoying the delights of parenthood, tea, cake and rain.